You’re in Urinetown and it’s a wee bit of fun!
By Sebastian Purcell
Urinetown the Musical premiered on Broadway in 2001 with music by Mark Hollmann and lyrics by Hollman and Greg Kolis. Soundworks’ production is distinctly set in rural Australia, on the backdrop of a 20-year drought highlighting a way of life that may be more closer to reality if the effects of climate change continue on our current trajectory. Urinetown parodies a number of musicals and Soundworks’ has offered a contemporary take some of these parodies along with the musical format itself.
Due to the severe water shortages, Caldwell B Cladwell (Quin Kelly) has established Urine Good Company (UGC) to control water consumption. The towns’ officers Lockstock (Dom Hennequin) and Barell (Ashlee Noble) ensure the town-folk pay to pee under the harsh eye of Penelope Pennywise (Maddison Coleman). If the laws are broken, then offenders are sent to Urinetown, never to return. The oppression leads to an uprising from former UGC employee Bobby Strong (Finn Alexander) with the support of Caldwell’s daughter Hope Cladwell (Amy McMillan), only for the town and its people to realise freedom might not be the savour they were hoping for.
This is an absolute laugh out loud performance. It is superbly directed by Mark Taylor, with the support of choreographers Sophie Loughran and Aadhya Wijegoonawardena. The production is lively, energetic and borderlines ridiculous but never crosses the line; and while the show doesn’t take itself seriously the cast and creative team absolutely do. The cast, as an ensemble excel, especially in dancing in unison, with a personal favourite the Act Two opener What is Urinetown? – a homage to Fiddler on the Roof.
This is a tight-knit cast, each shining and getting applause throughout, but there are some absolute scene stealers in this show. Finn Alexander as Bobby Strong demonstrates a polished vocal performance in a Sister Act inspired Run Freedom Run. Alexander leads the ensemble who transform into a garbage bag clad chorus while his defying gravity run, mop in hand (not broomstick), is terrific. Amy McMillan as Hope also soars but my favourite is her acapella start to, I See a River. McMillan brings such depth to a role that could easily be a one-dimensionsupplementary character. Chloe Halley as Little Sally plays deadpan against the goofy and solid Hennequin. However, it is Ashlee Noble as Officer Barrell that steals the spotlight in every scene. She has the audience eating out of her palm. Not only is her comedic timing superb but she is an all-round performer bringing a physicality that’s unmatched.
The staging is minimal and effective, ensuring the large cast are able to fill the small stage available at Chapel off Chapel. The use of milk crates as major props from barricades (think Les Miserable) to love heart props within a corrugated iron outhouse puts you immediately in the Australian Outback. Aron Murray’s lighting design is vibrant and a clever use of toilet plungers as handheld lights is used to good effect.
The subject matter may be doused in toilet humour, but what better way is there to get audiences to consider important themes of sustainability and climate change and their impact on the world around them.
Urinetown the musical is playing at Chapel off Chapel from 28 October until 6 November 2022 with tickets via Urinetown | Chapel Off Chapel.
Photography by Benjamin Gregory (BG Group)